Revisiting Neil Gaiman's 'Neverwhere'

Revisiting Neil Gaiman's 'Neverwhere'

The heart that lies within one of my favorite books

I should reveal the fact that for a substantial period of my life, I was what is known as a “Tumblr girl.” For a while after I grew out of my stigmatized fangirl role, I remained on the site with a new focus on aesthetics and seeking all I found beautiful. One of the most notable aesthetic Tumblr sites was called Flowury and was run by a girl named Bean.

Bean, as many Tumblr girls with large followings tended to be, was a bit of an egotist and spent hours publically answering questions from her fans. I typically scrolled past all of these discussions, uninterested in other people’s silly requests for advice and suggestions from a girl who was likely younger than they were. However, someone asked Bean one day what her favorite book was and for once, I was intrigued by what her response would be. Without providing a lot reasoning, she explained that she had recently read and fallen in love with Neil Gaiman’s “Neverwhere.” Even more intrigued by this passionate yet vague response, I decided to give the book a try myself.

Simply put, the entirety of the book reads like the way watching a movie feels. The way in which Gaiman writes invites readers not just to envision London Below in their heads, but to feel everything as if they themselves are experiencing the wonders and horrors of this new world. We follow Richard Mayhew, a young businessman who encounters a weak and bloodied young girl on the sidewalk. The morning after he helps Door by bringing him back to her apartment, she is fully recovered and Richard has seemingly been erased from his life. He’s forced to find her in the second city of London which exists below the sidewalks of the city we (as readers) all know. Together, Richard and Door face the classic adventure trials: beast fighting, backstabbing, kidnapping, casual angel-killing, sexy vampires, rat kingdoms, and assassins. Together, they also come out changed for the better.

After recently reconnecting with a friend who is best described as one of my “writer friends” (despite any and all pretension), I couldn’t stop returning to “Neverwhere,” albeit not for the obvious memory lane sentiment. Growing up, I wrote frequently and consistently (enough, evidently, to have writer friends), all primarily fiction. Yet, I hadn’t realized how little I wrote for fun in college until she asked what I had written recently and all I had to show were my essays and research papers. I began to miss not just actual writing itself, but the art and the power of a story, my favorite of which being that in the novel.

I realized only recently that the way in which we explain ourselves is typically through the stories we tell. And the way in which we tell these stories -to each other, to the world, to the readers of this article- is where it gains its power to inspire, shape or change others. So I asked myself, in this wild pit of existentialism and revived sense of creativity: why did the story of “Neverwhere” still to this day hold so much power over me? It was just a random story from an offhand mention in someone’s post not directed at or pertaining to me in any way.

What this latest reflection has made me realize is that for the first time, I’ve fallen in love with a story rather than ideal. “Neverwhere” doesn’t promote any romantic relationship or paint Richard as a character to fall in love with. Instead, Door is an autonomous figure who keeps fighting on despite facing unbelievable hardship, and Richard’s character growth and ultimate self-actualization are glorified rather than his romantic potential. It holds so much power because it holds just as much meaning. At the heart of the novel, it turns out, was what I always needed to read but never knew I was looking for.

Cover Image Credit: Emily Sharp

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